Got a quarter? Can you flip it? Congratulations, you're a stock guru.

For months now, I've been using Motley Fool CAPS to evaluate the Wall Street wizards who rate stocks, and gauge the likelihood that those ratings will pan out. In recurring columns like "Get to Know a Guru," we meet the unsung heroes (and villains) of Wall Street. In "This Just In," we put the experts to the test, determining whether their upgrades and downgrades are worth the virtual paper they're printed on.

Today, I want to step back and see the big picture. Using the full breadth of CAPS to take a snapshot of the Wall Street Wise, I'll lay out for you who's hot, who's not, and overall, whether these analytical hotshots are smarter than a fifth grader.

Newsflash: They're not
We often hear the statistic: "80% of mutual funds underperform the market." But until now, it's been hard to fact-check that bit of commonly accepted Foolishness. Fortunately, CAPS does something nearly as good. It records every stock pick made by 170 professional stock pickers, from professional talking heads like Jim Cramer to financial bastions such as Citigroup. It tracks the recommendations' performance, and most importantly, it records whether the picks are beating or lagging the S&P 500's return. So how are the experts doing?

Drumroll, please...
Blow the trumpets and release the tickertape! For the first time in the history of this column, Wall Street has (collectively) managed to outguess a coin-flip. Out of 170 professional players surveyed, only 75 have sub-50% "accuracy" records on their picks.

Wall Street wall of shame
And yet, we still have these 75 bankers to consider. In our continuing effort to help you identify and avoid the losers, we present our list of Wall Street's "Unlucky Seven" -- the least-accurate institutional investors, along with a few of the their worst recommendations (that they've made public):

Wall Street Worst Firm


One Especially Bad Recommendation

How Bad?*

Maxim Group


Corning (NYSE:GLW)

11 points

Next Generation



40 points

Miller Johnson Steichen Kinnard


Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ:SWHC)

55 points

McAdams Wright Ragen


Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN)

27 points

WR Hambrecht + Co


Seagate Tech (NYSE:STX)

28 points

Merriman Curhan Ford



50 points

Punk, Ziegel & Company


Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)

10 points

*Which is to say, how badly is this active pick underperforming the S&P 500?

As you can see, even the "best" of the seven firms named above guess wrong twice as often as they do right. Pardon my bluntness, but I think you're better off flipping a quarter than paying these analysts for investing advice.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics
Confession time: The numbers above certainly suggest that the old truism about mutual funds, and the professionals who run and market them, holds true. But in a new service like CAPS (still in beta, by the way), there are bound to be bugs in the system.

Some such "bugs" are intentional, such as our decision to not permit ratings on "half-penny" stocks with market caps of less than $100 million, or stock prices under $1.50 per share. Some are not -- glitches in the system which may unintentionally affect the statistics CAPS generates. So before the analysts named above cry bloody murder, let me extend the following olive branch: We're listening.

If you've got a gripe about your rating, and the facts to back it up, we'll work with you to fix the problem. Drop our CAPS feedback board a note, and we'll give your arguments a fair hearing. On the other hand, if you're just mad because we're highlighting statistics that you'd rather not advertise, there's not a lot we can do for you.

Well, actually, there is one thing. Just like anyone else, you're welcome to subscribe to Motley Fool Income Investor. Not every stock we recommend turns out to be a winner, but our group of picks is currently beating the market on average. This offer gets you Fool access free for 30 days.

Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 457 out of more than 110,000 players. The Fool has a disclosure policy.